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As we approach the four-year anniversary of Independent Journal Review, I wanted to take a moment to reflect on the unbelievable journey we have shared so far, and on our commitment to a vision for a media company that doesn’t just want to change the news industry, but to fix how we value and discover the experiences that we share with our community.

To all of you - I’m so very proud that our unique path has left a notable and lasting trail, one that the largest and most revered news organizations in the world have attempted to imitate in search of answers in a media landscape littered with questions. That a less than four-year-old media company - remaining independently owned, operated, and profitable - can co-host a presidential debate, reach tens of millions of Americans every month, staff the newsrooms of CNN, The Washington Post, The Hill, Axios, New York Magazine, and rise to the #1 most engaged news site in the world is a remarkable accomplishment and true testament to the dedication and work by each of you.

A media company doing all of this with a bootstrapped budget and year-after-year profitable growth is a rarity if not a complete anomaly, but without constant reinvention and dedication our success will not last.

We are setting out on a course that recognizes the needs of diversification while understanding the advertising strategies of chasing unmeasurable “vanity ad dollars” until it gets smart is equally risky and fleeting.

To that end, IJR is committed to building an honest, valued, and lasting name. One that provides real value to our community first, and advertisers that hope to connect with them second. This won’t happen overnight, and we will make our share of mistakes. But we do this not only by bringing together a talented team, but by committing to putting one thing at the forefront of what we do: Listen.

Every day I’m humbled by the unbelievable responsibility placed on each of us. I constantly look back at the values that have brought our team together, and the experiences we have had in such a relatively short time.

Journalism has always been about serving communities, and collectively representing the voice and interests of these communities which could hold even the most powerful accountable. Today’s challenge - and the initial catalyst for IJR - is a recognition that the communities these journalists serve have become overwhelmingly concentrated in a few major cities. Tens of millions of Americans who care about and demand focus on different core issues and conversations are left wanting.

IJR will focus on building tools to elevate their voice and put them in the driver’s seat. These tools will help our community make decisions on everything from the topics we cover, to the newsroom hires we make, and to the answers we demand from the world’s most powerful institutions and people. We will create new ways to connect our community directly with thought leaders and with one another. We will use data to listen to feedback and inform decisions on topics and conversations we are covering that resonate most with these Americans.

Americans who share a common set of ideals with our team: Curiosity, Courage, Humility, Empathy and Independence.

When we keep these values in mind as we approach our work, we see our most promising results.

Curiosity

One of the things I’m most proud of in our newsroom is your constant curiosity surrounding the stories we cover. While many traditional news sites oftentimes report on the same story in much the same way, our team approaches these stories in a different and unique way, asking “What else is here? What is everyone else missing?”

This curiosity in our reporting is what connects us so deeply with our community, and why these stories are then shared and engaged with so massively across the internet. A few key examples that immediately come to mind for me include IJR’s reporting on the Charleston church shooting, the Baltimore riots, the video storytelling along the presidential campaign trail, and most recently a slew of breaking news and leading coverage. All of these stories came about from a level of curiosity and focus on what resonates with our community.

Courage

I’ve had the privilege of working with and admiring numerous journalists throughout the years, and I know that vast majority work hard, do the right thing, and fiercely protect the communities they serve. The challenge in a media landscape that has been decimated by tough times, fickle audiences, and financial cuts, is that these journalists largely receive feedback and accountability from a community disconnected from much of the country they reach.

IJR has gotten it right because you continually demonstrate the courage to stand by your ‘listen first’ approach. We’re in tune with our audience because we live in these communities around the country and understand deeply what moves them and the issues they care about. Your courage in standing up for their voice with your storytelling keeps us going strong, day in and day out.

Humility

In the wake of President Trump’s victory, there has been no shortage of introspection by the media, asking “How could we get this so wrong?”

The answer seems to be quite simple: our readers, and a large part of the country, feel their concerns are no longer heard by traditional media companies.

According to Gallup Research, the American people have a historically low level of trust in mass media, with only 32% of Americans saying they have a fair amount of trust in our media institutions. This means we, as an industry, are suffering as a respected institution in the eyes of the American public.

Gallup

IJR readers comprise an audience that grows further and further away from the consciousness of the media echo chamber. They are the audience everyone missed this cycle, and we’ve applied ourselves to listening to and sharing their experiences.

Our community hates bullies and had been waiting a long time for someone willing to fight for - or perhaps along with - them. At IJR we’ve done our best to ensure these Americans are not forgotten, and that their stories are heard - loudly and clearly.

To this end, IJR’s newsroom took seriously every candidate who ran for president. Out of respect for our readership we banned the use of the word “frontrunner,” and we had the very first reporter in Trump Tower at 5 a.m. the day Donald Trump announced. We used our access to the numerous candidates to show their human side, and incorporated feedback to the presidential debate we co-hosted. Time after time, IJR demonstrated that there is a new approach to listening to and connecting with Americans.

Empathy

You’re all familiar with the motto I believe describes our brand of journalism best:

Experience the News.

The reason why we connect with our audience, and why we’ve built such a strong following today, was because of our ability to listen to them. We’ve reported on the news in a way that sought to amplify our readers’ voice.

The Baltimore riots; The Charleston church shooting; The Dallas ambush of police officers and first responders. Time and time again, IJR reporters were in America’s communities and sharing experiences in a way that put them first.

Independence

As election watchers know, many of the most consequential swing states ended up going for Trump; Florida, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Wisconsin. This predominantly working-class, Rust Belt swath of states is home to millions and millions of IJR readers who felt left behind and ignored by the media bubble.

IJR readership heat map

  • Atlanta
  • Boston
  • Dallas - Fort Worth
  • Detroit
  • New York
  • Orlando - Daytona Beach
  • Phoenix
  • Pittsburgh
  • Seattle - Tacoma

In our search to better understand this community at IJR, we found that they were animated by one belief far more than any other: Independence.

The value of independence was the catalyst for the birth of the most powerful country in the world and the one we call home. Here at IJR we call them Independence First. In their eyes the country's largest institutions have become too big and too unaccountable, and the Independence First community believes that they threaten the very core of what built America.

What does Independence First mean?

  • Strong sense of identity as an American and a deep appreciation of the American ideals of freedom and opportunity that binds us together.
  • Engaged and politically active online, especially on Facebook; more likely to be a registered voter; more likely to donate to a cause or campaign; and more likely to contact their elected officials.
  • View institutions with skepticism. Don’t have confidence in the media to report fairly and accurately and don’t trust government institutions to solve problems.
  • More likely to have served in the military or have a veteran in the household.
  • Feel that the media doesn’t appreciate their concerns and they have no voice in a Washington dominated by lobbyists and special interests.

During the most important days for political news and reporting of 2016, IJR outperformed traditional media heavyweights like The New York Times, BuzzFeed, CNN, Huffington Post, and many others.

In the 48 hours surrounding the presidential election, IJR was the #1 most socially engaged media site in the world.

NewsWhip, December 2016

I’m proud of all our hard work. I’m proud of your curiosity, your courage, your empathy, and for your constant ability to keep an open mind and have the humility to listen to our audience. It is these Americans that IJR paid attention to from the very beginning and the reason we have any platform or company today. We share their belief in the core value of independence, the foundation for the birth of the nation we call home, and the catalyst for its growth into the greatest country in the world. They are the ones with whom traditional media lost touch and who we will constantly strive to give a voice.

Onward!

Alex

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